Desire for things we do not yet fully possess drives so much of our lives. Even when we ask one another, “How are you?” the detailed answers tend not toward what we are in the current moment, but what we “will be” after something else is achieved and reached. “Fine,” we say, “I’m almost done with this big project and then I can rest.” But we don’t rest. We just move on to the next desire or goal.
The theological virtue of hope rests not only on the reality that we long for fulfillment in life, but that this longing will be answered definitively in God, in heaven. Hope is literally infinitely greater than any “natural” or “worldly” hope, which often mere optimism, drive, idealism, enthusiasm etc. The virtue of hope acknowledges that our insatiable desire for more is just that: insatiable. The simple reason our desires keep compelling us forward is that our deepest desire is infinite. It is our longing for God. Any lesser fulfillment should only point us to this deepest and greatest longing. To hope is not to wish that God will answer this call by coming to us in this life with full union in the next, but to know that it is so. In hope we are sure and secure.
“Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest remains, let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it” (Heb. 4:1). “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promise” (Heb. 6:11-12). The “not yet” of salvation does not spur us to despair, but to loving action, “for the word of God is living and active… Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:12, 16). Hope is not just the promise of a future heaven, but the pledge of help in getting there. Faith is trust in what God has said, trust in God as a living and active reality.
“[We] have obtained access, by faith, to that grace in which we stand,” said St. Paul, “We are confident in the hope of attaining glory as the sons of God” (Rom. 2:2). Pope Benedict XVI said the Christian message is “not only ‘informative’ but ‘performative” – it does something here and now. Hope does not kick the fulfillment-can down the road and into eternity. It is not, “Well, this life is hell. So, let us hope the next one is heavenly!” No, the fact that heaven is our end, the very trajectory of our being, completely shapes and inspires our life on earth. It is a great paradox that that which looks to the next life effects this one so drastically.
This is despite accusations to the otherwise; accusations that by having your head in the clouds (on heavenly things) it basically buries it in the sand in this life. Like many cliché accusations against Christians, it needs repetition because evidence disproves it. It is the Catholic Church that is both the champion of heaven and the champion of the poor, marginalized, neglected, suffering. It is the saints that are radically present to all they encounter – they are not the ones with their heads in the clouds or sand. Hopefulness leads to presence, not aloofness. The saints, through their hope, blur the lines between this life and the next. “The fact that this future exists changes the present,” said Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical on hope, “the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future.”